Planning chapel services for your college or university is a major part of your role as chaplain to the students. While there are similarities between planning chapel services and church services, most chapel services are shorter and less formal than normal services. Keeping your audience and time constraints in mind will help to ensure that services meet the needs of those in attendance.
Lectionary-Based Chapel Services
If you are unsure of how to begin planning chapel services for your school, the Lectionary can provide a good starting point. The Lectionary operates on a three-year cycle and corresponds to the liturgical seasons. Each week, a set of scriptures is given along a theme to be used in congregational life. Following the Lectionary can lend structure to your chapel experience and enable you and the students to live the rhythm of the Christian year in communion with one another. Invite students to volunteer to read the scripture passages for the week, and then prepare your sermon based on the passage that seems to carry the most relevant message for your time and setting.
Theatrical Chapel Services
Theatrical chapel services provide a break from traditional liturgy and can help connect chapel attendees to God through creativity and mystical expression. Form a chapel theatrical troupe that can practice and perform skits of key scriptures, utilizing sets, costumes, lighting and music. From time to time, giant puppets created with papier-mâché might be used in a theatrical chapel presentation to catch the attention of students and inspire their imaginations to connect with major biblical stories and ultimately the Divine. Chapel attendees should be made aware that normal chapel routines will be suspended during theatrical chapel services.
Meditative Chapel Services
Sometimes the hustle and bustle of a college or university setting creates a spiritual need for quiet and contemplation. Plan meditative chapel services around midterms, finals and other times when the school community might need to find some peace. Arrange for a service that is free of all talking, and create a sacred space with soft music, candlelight and room for praying and meditating in silence. Harpists, pianists and violinists can provide wonderful soft music for meditative chapel services. Alternatively, you could arrange to walk a labyrinth during chapel service a few times a year to encourage the community to connect with God in complete silence.
Liturgical seasons call for particular types of chapel services. Sometimes you will want to hold communion services, especially to commemorate the Last Supper during Lent. You can also hold a foot-washing service during that time. Advent might call you to hold chapel services to light the candles on an Advent wreath, and Pentecost might call you to have a worship service centered around the color red for the Holy Spirit. Even as you plan special chapel events throughout the year, be sure to take time out for chapel services that honor your current place in the Christian liturgical year.
Guest Speakers in Chapel
Most colleges and universities host a variety of conferences and programs throughout the school year. Whenever possible, invite prominent guests to speak during chapel. Give them input in the service, from the hymns to the order of worship. Ensure that musicians will be available for any music as part of the service and that supplies such as candles or incense (when allowed) are easily accessible. Planning with guests a few weeks in advance will give you time to make sure everything is in place and to get the word out to the academic community.